It may not seem like it, but police community support officers have now been working the streets of Grantham for a decade.
PCSOs, once derided as “plastic policemen”, are now the most recognisable police officers in many communities due to their being assigned to work in specific neighbourhoods.
Stuart McBride, 65, was the first of three PCSOs to be taken on by Lincolnshire Police to work in Grantham in January, 2003.
The Journal met with Mr McBride to find out how those 10 years have gone.
What made you apply to be a PCSO in the first place?
I thought that perhaps I could make a difference rather than being a Victor Meldrew type with his nose up against the window saying “look at that lot over there”. I thought perhaps I could get involved in the community instead.
You were among the first batch of PCSOs taken on. Did you know what, exactly, you were applying for?
I didn’t know what the job entailed but I thought it would be a job where I would talk to people and get to know people and that’s just what it was. It took a while to make the contacts but once I got to know people and they got to know me and trust me, that’s when things started to improve. In the early days we got involved with local schools and showed the children we were not just another uniform - there was a person inside it.
What was the reaction to PCSOs from fellow officers?
To start with I think there was a bit of resentment from police officers because they didn’t know what we were supposed to do and they thought we were there to take away part of their job. But as time has gone on the police officers we work with realise we are an effective and essential part of the police family that they can no longer work without. We get involved with all aspects of the job.
How has the role changed over the last 10 years?
It’s amazing really. Technology has really taken over. We carry Blackberry phones and computers are a daily requirement of the job whereas when I first started we didn’t use computers at all - in fact we weren’t allowed. Now everything is reported through computers. It has changed enormously over the years but it’s a job I still enjoy and enjoy as much as when I first started.
What do you enjoy most?
The day-to-day involvement with the public and the work with schoolchildren. That still gives me the greatest buzz really, seeing them develop as they grow up through their schooling years and into their working life. I think as a team of people we have made Grantham a safer place and we have taken away a lot of the fear that people had of crime. A lot of people on this estate (Earlesfield, Mr McBride is a PCSO in Grantham Town West) said they only saw a police officer when someone drove in under blue lights to put a door in. Nobody walked the streets and talked to people.
Do you see PCSOs as the face of policing?
We are. We have designated areas and we get to know the public and, more importantly, the public gets to know us.